Client and Learner Needs Determination
In order to be successful, LBS programs have to provide the information and referrals that effectively address the needs of both clients (those who walk into our programs or contact us in other ways) and learners. Needs determination is the basis for providing the most helpful services, supports and programs related to an individual’s needs.
A needs determination (sometimes called needs assessment) is a method for determining client/learner needs and finding ways to attend to them. Needs can be merely wants or options or they can be necessary, must-haves or requirements. Needs can also be problems that require solutions. Generally speaking, needs are what has to or should take place to move from the way things are (current state) to the way they should be (desired state). A needs determination deals with this gap.
When a client walks in our doors we are expected to find out what the client needs. It may be that LBS services are not what the client is really looking for.
LBS practitioners are not expected to be able to answer all of a learner’s needs. However, we are expected to “have a process in place to identify each learner’s information and referral needs in an efficient and effective way.” (LBS Service Provider Guidelines, April 2013, www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/eopg/publications/2013-2014_lbs_sd_guidelines.pdf) Your program may have already developed its own processes. If this is not the case, here are some important steps to include:
1. Determine the learner’s needs. (For more on this see Client and Learner Needs Determination earlier in this section)
2. Determine if there are resources within your agency or the community to meet the learner’s needs. (See Identify Appropriate Interventions or Solutions further on in this section)
3. Make appropriate referrals using established protocols.
4. Some learners are able to do their own research, make their own contacts or make their own appointments if you give them the information they need. On the other hand, if it appears that a learner needs help to connect with the suggested agency or person, provide them with appropriate assistance.
5. Document the information that you gave to the person (if appropriate) or referrals you made in the learner’s files. Input a Referral Plan Item into the EOIS-CaMS or provide the information to the staff member who does the EOIS-CaMS updates.
6. Follow up with the learner or service (if you have permission) to ensure that the learner was able to get the help/service needed.
7. Document the referral result in the learner file and on EOIS-CaMS.
Identify the Gap and Need
The first step in the needs determination process is identifying the gap between the current and desired situations. To do this we need to find out what the current issue is and where the client or learner wants to be. As each gap or issue will have different solutions, it is important that we are clear. For example, a client may walk in and tell you he needs help writing a resume. In the chart, we have set out some of the current/desired state pairs we might discover through investigation:
There are a number of “investigation” methods to help you determine the need. Different techniques may be more suitable for different circumstances. Combinations of techniques may be necessary to drill down to the problem. Here are some suggested methods:
- Observation – Sometimes just watching a client or learner can provide insight on what the “gap” might be. For example, you might notice the learner seems to have vision problems that are affecting the learner’s ability to read.
- Asking – Whether by individual interviews, focus groups or questionnaires, we can often find out what a client or learner wants just by asking. Asking questions during an interview would probably be the best technique in our example of the client who wants help with resumes.
- Discussion – Regularly discuss the learners’ needs with them. Provide open opportunities to discuss challenges and barriers. Consult with people in key positions or with specific knowledge. Sometimes, caseworkers or relatives can provide insight into clients’ or learners’ needs (if you have permission to discuss them).
- Assessments, tests and work samples – These documents will provide you with specific skill gaps that need to be addressed. Make sure, however, that assessment and test tools and solutions are appropriate to the client/learner goals. Work samples from an employer are particularly useful as they provide context to the skill gaps.
- Records – School records such as Individual Education Plans (IEP) and high school transcripts can be very useful.
- Reports – To determine the true gaps, you may need to investigate what the “desired state” entails. For example, you might use the Essential Skills Profiles to determine which competencies and levels are necessary for employment in a particular occupation.
Trust and a supportive relationship help in determining learner challenges and needs. The willingness of learners to disclose (directly or indirectly) the challenges they have and for which they need some support in addressing may depend on trust. This trust can be developed between a learner and a staff member over time. The identification of needed supports is most likely to occur when the learner feels that the service provider is trying to address challenges and solve problems and is not judging the learner. Once the relationship is established, learners understand that some gaps can be addressed outside the LBS Program and that staff will facilitate the necessary referrals to other service providers.
When investigating gaps, remember that actual needs are not always the same as perceived needs or “wants.” People do not always know what they need. Sometimes, they want to learn things that they don’t really need to reach their goal.
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